When a Story Ending Doesn’t Satisfy

story ending

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Years ago, when the first Lord of the Rings movie came out, I was so compelled by the storytelling that I decided I would read the trilogy in advance of the other movies releasing. This wasn’t exactly a mistake—the movies are hardly disappointing, quite the contrary—but I was angry at how the movie neatly tied a bow around the ending of the trilogy. It was too eager to satisfy. Critics even joked that the movie had three or four different endings, since it very methodically showed us the conclusion of each major character’s narrative arc.

The original ending by Tolkien was incredibly bittersweet—the good guys “win,” but this doesn’t automatically lead to a happy or tidy ending.

Over at Glimmer Train, writer Toby Wallis discusses endings that don’t necessarily satisfy—particularly those that refuse to answer the questions that are posed at the beginning of the story. He writes:

… sometimes endings are designed to satisfy, answering the questions posed along the way with a denouement that leaves no string unattached. Endings that allow you to leave as easily as you came in. But what if the ending isn’t designed to satisfy? What if it is trying to do something else? What if the story doesn’t want to let you leave quietly? What if the whole point is to pull the rug out from under you?

Read his full essay.

Also this month from Glimmer Train:


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Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (2017).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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4 Comments on "When a Story Ending Doesn’t Satisfy"

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[…] Sometimes endings are designed to satisfy, answering the questions posed along the way. But what if the ending isn't designed to satisfy?  […]

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[…] So when I read an article that questions the satisfying endings of some works and wonders if the point of some is to leave readers not quite comfortable, I am happy. Characters have so much more going on that we can’t tell you all of it. But if you don’t believe me, check out Jane Friedman’s take […]

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[…] When a Story Ending Doesn’t Satisfy (Jane Friedman) Years ago, when the first Lord of the Rings movie came out, I was so compelled by the storytelling that I decided I would read the trilogy in advance of the other movies releasing. This wasn’t exactly a mistake—the movies are hardly disappointing, quite the contrary—but I was angry at how the movie neatly tied a bow around the ending of the trilogy. It was too eager to satisfy. Critics even joked that the movie had three or four different endings, since it very methodically showed us the conclusion of each… Read more »
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